Just one last hurrah

Many athletes take the field for last time at Superior Dome on Saturday

Black Team player Jake Witt, of Ontonagon, catches the ball with Red Team players Chase Kreski, left, of Kingsford, and Aaron Corkin, of Ishpeming, in action during the U.P. Football All-Star Game Saturday, June 30, 2018, at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — When it’s the last game of your career, you want to make it close and competitive till the end and that’s just what Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Football All-Star Game was.

It was tight, but it could’ve been more exciting as the game was marred by penalties and turnovers. However, the contest did come down to the final seconds.

Down by seven points in the late going, the Red team used some impressive quarterback play from Munising’s Alec Blank along with two nice catches by Newberry’s Jeff Rahilly to move the ball to the Black’s 1-yard line. However, the Reds fumbled trying to punch it across the goal line and the Blacks emerged with a 14-7 win in the Superior Dome.

As disappointing as the ending was, the Reds were in good spirits afterwards and Blank talked about his great on-field relationship with Rahilly after battling each other for years on the gridiron.

“We actually played against each other for years and we knew what we could expect from each other,” he said. “He always burned us every time we played and he scored multiple touchdowns. I never beat him, so when we got up here, we started talking and it turned out really nice.”

The conditions in the dome weren’t as nice, though, as the hot and humid conditions outdoors were magnified indoors. But the teams sweated it out the best they could.

Marquette offensive lineman Zach Albright said that it didn’t bother him as much since the Redmen were forced to play their home games in the dome two years ago.

“In Marquette, we’re kind of used to it because we had to play our home schedule here, but it’s definitely a shock coming in from not playing football and then jumping into a game in the start of summer,” he said. “It was hot.”

The first half was dominated by the Reds, though that wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. On their first possession, they used a long run from Escanaba’s Scout Wunder and a pass from Gladstone’s Darin Johnson to Rahilly to bring the ball deep into Black territory. However, on fourth down, a Red receiver tripped in the end zone and the Reds were shut out.

The Reds had another good drive on their next possession, but after making it to the Black 28-yard line, were forced to punt. Then a fourth-down stop gave the Reds a great opportunity and early in the second quarter, they took advantage of it.

Two big first-down passes to Rahilly combined with a facemask penalty gave the Reds the ball at the Black 18. On fourth down just eight seconds into the second quarter, Johnson connected with Rahilly again for an 18-yard TD. With the extra point, the Reds led 7-0.

Rahilly was named the Reds’ offensive player of the game, but when asked about it, he shook off the credit and gave it to his teammates.

“We’ve got two great quarterbacks and our line played pretty good,” he said. “They were just able to get me the ball so I could make some plays.”

As impressive as he is as a receiver, Rahilly is switching gears now as he will be playing hockey at Davenport University in Grand Rapids.

“I had the choice between the two (football and hockey) and I picked what I love,” he said. “(Davenport) was just a good fit for me. I like the area, the coaches and I like the team.”

On the first Black possession of the second quarter, the Reds showed off their defensive skills as West Iron County’s Neil Tomasoski picked off a pass.

However, another long drive by the Red offense came up empty. A pass from Blank to Calumet’s Cooper Twardzik brought the ball to the Black 26, and later a 13-yard quarterback draw from Blank gave the Reds a first down on the 3-yard line, but they couldn’t punch it in as Johnson was stuffed on fourth down.

The Reds had one last chance to pad their lead after another interception by Tomasoski, but again, couldn’t capitalize. Blank found Rahilly on the near sideline for a first down, but the Indians receiver wasn’t done as he broke three tackles and moved the ball across midfield.

Blank hit Rahilly again on the next play for another first down up to the 24, but the Reds were once again stopped on fourth down.

In the second half, the Reds’ inability to finish off those first-half drives started to hurt them. They should’ve been holding a significant advantage in the third quarter, but penalties started to hit them hard.

An unsportsmanlike conduct call negated a long run by Johnson and on the next Black possession, a pass interference penalty gave the Blacks life.

Later on that same drive, Kingsford quarterback Sawyer Perpich connected with Bark River-Harris’ Ryan Arndt in the end zone. With the extra point, the Blacks knotted the score at 7-7.

Miscues continued to haunt the Reds. A first-down catch by Rahilly was called back on another unsportsmanlike penalty and after Ishpeming’s Aaron Corkin picked off a pass for the Reds, a block in the back moved back his return. On the very next play, Johnson gave the ball back to the Blacks with an interception.

Black took advantage on the takeaway as it quickly moved the ball upfield. After Arndt picked up a first down on fourth-and-2, Escanaba’s Logan Carroll got another first down and then scampered into the end zone one play later to give the Blacks their first lead at 14-7 with 16 seconds left in the third.

The Reds caught a break on their next possession as the Blacks were called for pass interference, which helped bring the ball well into Black territory. The Reds converted on fourth down later in the drive, but a first-down screen pass to Westwood’s David Delayre was called back on another penalty, stopping whatever momentum they generated.

In the end, though, it was just an exhibition and the game was about playing ball one more time with friends and competing against the best in the U.P.

That’s what just about all the players said about what they’ll take away from the game.

Blank said the game was “a reminder of what football is all about” as he heads out to play ball at Finlandia in the fall, while Albright said it “meant the world” to him.

“Ever since I started my senior season at Marquette, I always thought it’d be the coolest thing ever to get into the all-star game,” Albright said. “To be able to come here this week and play with the group of guys that I got to play with, it means the world.

“All of these guys are top-notch in the U.P. and hence why we’re all called all-stars. Even though we lost, I had a heck of a time. I had so much fun.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.